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Big Sounds from Bose's Small Box

I have to admit, I was skeptical when I read the literature accompanying the $499 Bose Wave Music System. A redesign of the original hit Wave Radio II, it offered a bold statement: that this tiny tabletop radio and CD player could serve as a primary music system in homes, dorms, or apartments.

Those doubts largely disappeared after putting the Bose system to the test. I won't ditch my larger home stereo system just yet, since you can only connect TVs and other devices to the Wave system through an auxiliary-input jack. But in terms of sound quality, hearing indeed is believing.

While not much bigger than a shoebox, the sound emanating out the Wave system actually put some of the much larger systems I've owned over the years to shame. Classical CDs, from Mendelssohn to Haydn, actually delivered every little nuance of sound and percussion, while on artist Goapele's CD Even Closer, the Bose picked up the seductive sounds of her voice and the unique combination of instruments that contribute to the jazzy, hip-hop, and soulful blues feeling of her songs.

ROCKING WAKE-UP. Bose says its secret are two 26-inch "waveguides" that are tuned to amplify the output to the two attached speakers and reproduce sounds with amazing clarity, either at the lowest volume settings or the near the highest.

All this high-end audio technology is delivered in a device that a lot of people might mistake simply for an AM/FM CD clock radio. Sure, it can function as that, but it's capable of a lot more. The system, which comes in either graphite grey or platinum white, features a fairly straightforward clock radio and alarm, with easy setup from a 26-button credit-card sized remote. You can preset six AM or FM channels, and set the alarm to wake you with music using those presets or a CD inserted into the front-loading slot.

Using the CD alarm function takes some getting used to. The volume starts out low, then gradually increases until you turn off the alarm. For me, that meant sleeping through the first minute or two, then waking to fairly loud music and scrambling to find the tiny remote. In fact, that's my biggest quibble with the system: there are absolutely no controls on the music system itself. Lose the remote, you're out of luck.

PORTABLE MUSIC. Like Apple (AAPL), Bose works to keep it simple. The front interface tells you the time, and dims at night for light-sensitive sleepers. In the upper right-hand corner, you get the alarm-set time, and at the bottom, the track number that's playing on a CD. If the CD is encoded with ID "tags," it'll read those, too, and display the artist's name and title of the song. The system accepts regular CDs, as well as MP3 files from CD-R and CD-RW disks.

Another neat feature is the ability to move the system from room to room without having to reset the clock or alarm. The system promises to retain those settings for an astounding 48 hours without power, thanks I suspect to flash memory.

Designed to work with other Bose products, the Wave system can double as secondary speakers when connected via a Bose Link interface to a compatible Lifestyle system. And you can plug in headphones for some private listening time.

The Bose Wave System may seem to carry a hefty price for a device which many people may primarily use as an alarm clock, but in my opinion, it's worth every penny for the amazing sound, which just may keep you listening in bed longer than you expect.

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